"...it's surprising how quick a little rain can clear the streets."
These lines from Billy Bragg’s "The Saturday Boy" kept repeating in my ears as I sat and watched others shelter or run for cover on the rain soaked streets of Versailles earlier this August. If you don’t know the song, you should. It’s an absolute classic with lyrics that ring true on so many levels. You can find it here:
Cyclists have a maxim which states that there is no such thing as bad weather - just bad clothing. As a bit of a keen cyclist, I increasingly find myself taking this view with photography too. Okay; you don’t want to risk non-weather sealed cameras and lenses in a torrential downpour, but bad weather brings out some great opportunities for photographs. Grab your gear and get out there - wrap it up if you have to, or lurk by a misted window in your favourite cafe. It was good enough for Saul Leiter.
So here are some of the great opportunities Mother Nature flings your way:
- The light - some of the best light is to be had either side of the worst weather. After all, a glorious sunset relies on there being cloud in the sky. I don’t think I ever noticed clouds as much until I picked up a camera. Amazingly beautiful things. And if you process them in mono you can bring out so many shapes and textures. The contrast in light, especially if there’s a weather front moving across your viewfinder, can be incredibly dramatic. Use it. Expose for the highlights and then pull up the shadows - you’ll get the most amazing range of tones.
- People with other things on their mind - when it’s pouring down only the kids, the elderly and the photographers take their time. People have one thing on their mind and that is to get out of the wet as fast as their skidding feet can slide them. They’re not interested in the street photographer who happens to be watching their every slip. Take your time and shoot 'til your heart's content - or your SD card is full.
- Reflections - wet roads throw shadowy and colourful reflections of shapes and lights from traffic and signs, bringing great swathes of vibrant colour to what would otherwise be a dull street.
- Abstract shapes - not only do the reflections create abstract shapes but umbrellas appear, and even hats. Both of these old style, classic items of clothing can look great (even timeless) in a photograph. Close in on the details and angles of intersection and you can get some great abstract shots.
- Blur, bokeh and soft focus - the wet softens everything. Sharp lines become blurred. Distant lights come on and, with your lens wide open, become colourful distorted baubles (bokeh) in the background. Take advantage of this and shoot wide open so that only the focus of attention remains sharp while everything else is allowed to slide in the wet.
- Black and white - a good downpour very often seems to wash the colour from a scene. So shoot in black and white. You may have a camera which allows you to see a black and white version of what you shoot and either saves it as a jpeg in monochrome, or at least gives you an idea of what a processed RAW file could look like. For example, Fujifilm cameras have the ACROS film style which gives richly detailed black and white, as well as their Monochrome setting. There’s even a Sepia setting as well as their various colour film simulations. I always shoot in RAW to maintain the information in the file but will often convert my images to black and white in post processing.
So next time the weather's set for storm..."Grab your coat, Get your hat, Leave your worry on the doorstep..." just remember to pick up your camera and have fun.